Archive for the ‘Craig Stammen’ Category

“We Decided To Go With The Closer”

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

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A transforming season that saw the Washington Nationals lead the National League in victories suddenly became a season of “what ifs” on Saturday night, with the Nats losing an historic 2-1 eighteen inning contest to the San Francisco Giants. The loss leaves the Nats now having to notch three “must wins” to advance to the NLCS  — two of them on the road.

With two outs in the ninth inning, and starter Jordan Zimmermann coasting to a 1-0 victory, Nats skipper Matt Williams walked to the mound, took the ball from Zimmermann, and called on closer Drew Storen to get the final out of the game. Storen couldn’t do it — giving up a hit to Buster Posey and a game-tying double to Pablo Sandoval.

What the Nationals have notched their win if Williams had stuck with Zimmermann? Would the outcome have been different had home plate umpire Vic Carapazza not have tightened the strike zone on the D.C. righty? We’ll never know. Instead, nine innings after Zimmermann left the game, Giants first sacker Brandon Belt homered off of Tanner Roark to give the Giants their improbable 2-1 win.

Williams explained his decision to lift Zimmermann to the press following the loss: “If he got in trouble in the ninth or got a baserunner, we were going to bring our closer in,” Williams said. “That is what we have done all year. Zimmermann got the first two guys, he wasn’t going to face Posey . . . We decided to go with the closer.”

The 18 inning game was the longest in MLB post-season history and lived up to its billing. Zimmermann dueled a revived Tim Hudson through seven complete innings (Hudson left, down 1-0, after 7.1), as both pitchers matched 1-2-3 lines. Hudson’s only hiccup came in the bottom of the 3rd, when an Anthony Rendon single scored Asdrubal Cabrera for Washington’s lone run.

The Giants first run (and the one that knotted the game at one apiece) in the top of the 9th provided the sell-out crowd with the most dramatic moment of the game. After closer Storen gave up a hit to Posey, and with Joe Panik on second, third sacker Pablo Sandoval followed with a dipsy-doodle stroke down the left field line. Panik scored, but Bryce Harper winged a throw to Ian Desmond, who gunned out Posey at the plate.

The play was reviewed, but the umpire’s call on the close tag of Posey by Wilson Ramos stood and the Nats and Giants headed to extra innings. What followed was a marathon as both teams emptied their bullpens, until Brandon Belt’s home run in the top of the 18th.

The extra innings marathon feature pitching that was nearly as brilliant as Zimmermann’s. Craig Stammen and the iffy Rafael Soriano (and Tyler Clippard and Jerry Blevins — and everyone else) stepped up for the Nationals, while Yusmeiro Petit was brilliant in six innings for the Giants. But, in the end, it was Belt’s blast that made the difference.

“I just wanted to get on base for the guys behind me: `Get `em on, get `em over and get `em in.’ Fortunately, I put a good enough swing on it,” Belt said after the Giants’ win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The best commentary on Williams’ 9th inning decision that we’ve read, or heard, comes for the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell. Writing this morning, Boswell questioned whether Williams made the right decision in bringing Storen in in relief . . .

For Boswell, at least, the answer is “no.” It’s hard to disagree. Williams himself noted in his post-game presser that “it’s easy to second guess” and that “hindsight is 20-20.” All true. But the words are Exhibit A that Boswell isn’t the only one questioning the Williams decision — Williams is too. And while Williams is no Ned Yost (the Kansas City Curse), we are left to wonder why he simply couldn’t utter the words “what the hell, he got us this far . . .”

Boswell comes up with the only explanation out there: Williams thinks through a plan, implements it, and follows it through — no matter what. “From the first day of spring training, Williams has been a man defined by his detailed plans, his schedules and his love of predictable order,” Boswell writes. “It has served him and his team 96-wins well. But he is not very flexible . . .”

That seems right to us. Our only mumbled addition is a defense of Williams that goes something like this: having an inflexible plan is better than not having one at all — which was the case in Chicago and Cincinnati during the Dusty Baker years . . .

Inaction is sometimes a “virtue,” as Boswell writes, and last night in the 9th was certainly one of them for the Nationals. But if Washington fans think bad decision making is a fault, they should have been in Chicago during the Prior-Wood era, or in Cincinnati (where arms go to die) two years ago . . .

We’ll take Williams, despite his faults, in lieu of the more undisciplined approach of Davey Johnson, or the incoherent (lets fight with the players) style of the dreadful Yost. That said, it wouldn’t be too much to ask for Matty to admit what we all know to be true, particularly in the wake of heartbreakers like Saturday night. “This one is on me . . .”

But we can’t let the moment pass without reflecting on the other unnecessary intervention in Saturday’s game. Home plate umpire Vic Carapazza’s strike zone was the most incoherent we’ve seen in some time. He lowered the strike zone on Bryce Harper (who yapped at him in disgust), then raised it on Asdrubal Cabrera, who was tossed (along with Williams) when Cabrera and Williams argued it . . .

Carapazza was lousy, and we’re not the only ones who think so. MASN analyst F.P. Santangelo allowed that Carpazazza called “a terrible game,” MLB Network veteran Mark DeRosa speculated that Carapazza was out of his depth (“maybe the stage was too big for him”) and Jon Heyman noted that Carapazza’s 9th inning strike zone was, ah, “borderline . . .”

Nevermind. It’s all history now. The Nationals are on to San Francisco, where they face elimination at the hands of a Giants team that finds a way to win — or, perhaps, sometimes simply figure that, if they hang in there long enough, the other guys will find a way to lose . . .

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Nats Blasts Not Enough Against The Giants

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

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Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera each homered for the Nationals, but the round trippers weren’t enough to tame the Giants, as Washington fell to San Francisco 3-2 in the first game of their five game National League Division Series face-off. The two teams will continue their fight to play in the N.L. Championship series on Saturday.

The Giants victory was fueled by a nose-in-the-dirt outing from San Francisco righty Jake Peavy, who no-hit the Nationals into the 5th inning, when Bryce Harper finally connected for an infield single. When Peavy exited the game after two outs in the 6th, he’d held the Nationals to just two hits and no runs and had struck out three.

“Peavy was unbelievable,” Harper said, following hit team’s loss. “He has been in this game a long time. I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I love his mentality out there and the way he pitches. He screams and yells and does what he does out there. That’s a gamer’s mentality. I have the utmost respect for Peavy for the way he threw tonight.”

Washington starter Stephen Strasburg, meanwhile, labored through five innings, giving up eight hits. The Giants played a small ball, hit-to-contact game against Strasburg, nickel-and-diming him with line-drive singles up the middle. Singles from Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey put the Giants ahead, 3-0 by the 7th inning.

The Giants’ hit-em-where-they-aint’s routine was frustrating for Washington’s young righty, who put in a solid performance, but took the loss. “Wasn’t like they were hitting me all around the yard,” Strasburg acknowledged, following his loss. “Hit it where we weren’t.”

Washington finally clawed back from the early deficit in the 7th, when Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera launched home runs that brought the Nationals within a single run. Harper’s breathtaking homer landed in the upper deck of right field, as the 45-000-plus Nats fans screamed their appreciation.

Jerry Blevins, Craig Stammen, Matt Thornton and Tyler Clippard followed Strasburg to the mound, providing workmanlike relief to the righty ace. But San Francisco responded by putting an extra run on the board in the 7th against Stammen, when Joe Panik led off the inning with a triple and was plated by a clutch Buster Posey single.

“Like I said, we had opportunities,” Nats skipper Matt Williams told the press after his team’s loss. “One swing of the bat can mean the difference in our game today. It didn’t happen. We will see if it can happen tomorrow.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Bryce Harper’s 7th inning home run traveled 445 feet and landed in the third tier, bouncing forward where it was retrieved by a fan. The home run came off reliever Hunter Strickland, a late season addition to the Giants’ roster and the reputed “closer of the future” for San Francisco . . .

The Giants game plan against Strasburg was to hit his fastball up the middle, and not to do too much. It seemed to work. “He was good,” manager Matt Williams said. “Throwing strikes early. It wasn’t that he was so excited that he wasn’t throwing strikes. Worked through the first inning well. I think he pitched fine . . . ”

Nats fans were silenced, and a little surprised, by San Francisco’s early offensive, but then got back into the game when Harper homered. When Asdrubal Cabrera then hit his round tripper (following a Wilson Ramos “K”), lifting his arms into the air to spur the home town crowd, the fans responded . . .

Cabrera’s home run didn’t have the distance of Harper’s, but it was impressive nonetheless. The offering from Hunter Strickland was high-and-away, and came in at 97 mph. Cabrera reached out to get it, and actually pulled it down the right field line. Very few 97 mph fastballs are pulled that well . . .

Strickland is an impressive addition for the Giants who is capable of providing late inning heat. But his final line on Friday was downright terrible. He gave up two hits, both of them home runs, and his final ERA for the day came in at a solid 18.00 . . .

The Nationals stranded seven runners on Friday and were 0-7 with runners in scoring position. That was the difference in the game, though the Giants pointed to the performance of starter Peavy and their playoff experience as the key to their victory . . .

“I think we tapped into our postseason experience,” San Francisco closer Sergio Romo said. “There’s that little extra thing in our chemistry — that focus, that determination — that separates postseason games from regular-season games. Everything seems to matter in the playoffs . . .

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Nats Sweep In Miami, Return For Final Homestand

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

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The Nationals completed an impressive four game sweep of the Marlins on Sunday afternoon in Miami 2-1, behind a strong seven inning outing from righty Stephen Strasburg. The Nats righty struck out five while giving up three hits and no runs, keeping Washington ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the best record in the National League.

“Really important, a good road trip for us against some teams that has been playing well especially here in a place where they play very good at home,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said, following the victory. “We won some close ones and pitching was good, that certainly will keep you in any ballgame.

This was Strasburg’s 13th win of the year and, with just seven games left in the season (three against the Mets, four against Miami), the Washington ace seems to be peaking at just the right time. Strasburg threw 84 pitches, 55 of them for strikes. “Just have to keep the train rolling,” Strasburg said following his strong outing.

With Strasburg on his game, the Nats needed just two runs to subdue the Marlins, and got both of them in the top of the 5th inning on a lead-off double from Jose Lobaton, an RBI triple from Nate Schierholtz and an Anthony Rendon double to left. Washington victimized Miami starter Nathan Eovaldi, who gave up seven hits in six innings.

Washington’s bullpen once against provided a solid performance. Craig Stammen provided a no hit, no run 8th inning, while Rafael Soriano (making a rare appearance in a save situation), gave up a single run in preserving the Nationals victory.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: With less than a week to go in the regular season, now might be a good time to check this year’s attendance figures — which are down from last year. Baseball has drawn 155,000 fewer fans to this point this year than to a similar point in 2013, a relatively insignificant per game decline. Still . . .

Washington has contributed to this, with a fall-off of 1,065 fans per game. That’s a marginal difference and well in line with the standard in baseball, where attendance figures lag performance by a year. Given the Nationals run to the playoffs in the 2014 campaign, we can expect the team’s attendance to go back up in 2015 . . .

Not to worry. It was going to be difficult for the franchise to outdraw last year’s totals, which were the best since 2005, the Nationals first year in D.C. Then too, the franchise’s attendance figures continue to be solid, putting them just ahead of the middle of the pack in the MLB. They currently rank 12th in attendance per game . . .

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Nats Hook The Fish Behind Gio, Harper

Friday, September 19th, 2014

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The pitching of southpaw Gio Gonzalez, timely hitting from left fielder Bryce Harper, shortstop Ian Desmond and second sacker Asdrubal Cabrera and a five run fourth inning propelled the Nationals past the Miami Marlins on Thursday night, 6-2 — as Washington continued their late-in-the-season dominance of the N.L. East.

Gonzalez notched his ninth win of the season, providing his sixth successive quality start in a row. The Washington southpaw dominated Miami hitting with a snappy fastball, while allowing six hits over seven innings  and striking out five. This was the lefty’s third win in his last four starts.

“I just think he’s got a better feel,” Nats skipper Matt Williams said of Gonzalez’s recent success. “You look back to not too long ago, where his slot was a little bit off and he was losing control of the fastball up and away to righties. He didn’t have a feel for his curveball. But he’s got that back, which is important for him. If he can do that, he can roll through the lineup.”

The Nationals scored five of their six runs in the fourth inning off of Miami starter Brad Hand. The D.C. rally began with a Anthony Rendon single, who then stole second. With two outs, Wilson Ramos doubled, and Washington stroked four successive singles: from Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Asdrubal Cabrera and Kevin Frandsen.

“That’s the way we play the game,” Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond noted after the victory. “Why change now? I think it’s kind of ingrained in our minds now the way that we’re supposed to go out there and go about our business.” Rendon and Harper were the sparks for the Nats offense, with Rendon notching a two hit night, while Harper was 3-4.

“We had a big inning and Gio pitched well, kept them at bay, bullpen came in and shut it down, and it was an all-around team effort,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “A good win for us.” Craig Stammen and Rafael Soriano came on in relief of Gonzalez and shut down the Miami offense in the eighth and ninth innings.

“With this team that we’re playing, these guys are going to the playoffs, we’ve got to play perfect baseball,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said after his team’s defeat. “We can’t give extra outs. We’ve got to take advantage and we’ve got to score runs when we can, and we weren’t able to do that.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We yak and yak about how great the Pittsburgh outfield is (with Marte, McCutchen and Polanco), but it might be that Miami’s is every bit as good — so long as Giancarlo Stanton is healthy and not recovering from an HBP in some Miami hospital . . .

Stanton is good enough to overawe everyone else in the game, not simply because he can hit (his final numbers on the season will be .288 with 37 home runs to go along with a .950 OPS, which leads all of baseball), but because he has a howitzer for an arm . . .

Because baseball is Stanton obsessed (prior to his injury, the hottest debate was whether he should be the MVP), we tend to overlook left fielder Christian Yelich and center fielder Marcell Ozuna. Yelich has been on fire since the All Star break, with a .316/.398/.394 slash line over 231 second-half at-bats. Yelich has had a solid year, with nine home runs, 54 RBIs and 89 runs . . .

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LaRoche, Rendon Power Nats Past Mets

Friday, September 12th, 2014

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On a night when beanballs and inside pitches seemed to dominate the game (and which saw Miami Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton go down in Milwaukee), home runs from Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon sparked a 6-2 Nationals win against the Mets at New York’s Citi Field.

LaRoche continued his hot hitting in September and has turned into a Mets killer. He is hitting .361 against the Mets this year and is hitting .393 with five home runs and 15 RBIs since September 5. LaRoche has turned into the Nats dominant bat in the final run to October.

The Nationals victory came at the expense of New York starter Bartolo Colon, who had his own problems with inside pitches. After LaRoche homered in the first to score two runs, Colon hit the next batter, shortstop Ian Desmond. When Anthony Rendon homered in the fourth, Colon then hit Jayson Werth — and Colon was tossed from the game.

While it was obvious that Colon had hit Werth on purpose, the Nationals right fielder later said he wouldn’t speculate on whether that was the case: “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter what I think,” Werth told reporters. “The umpire thought so. He hit Desi earlier in the game after a homer. He hit me right after. The home-plate umpire thought that was enough.”

While the Nationals ended up putting six runs on the board, the two home runs (and the four runs they plated) would be all that Washington needed. The Nationals were rewarded with a solid performance from starter Tanner Roark, who threw 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits and just two earned runs.

“I was commanding both sides of the plate. I’m not trying to nibble. I’m trying to make pitches, but trying to go right after them,” Roark said of his performance.

The Colon HPB’s earned retaliation from the Nationals, as reliever Matt Thornton hit Daniel Murphy in the bottom of the 8th. Murphy left the game with a contusion on his wrist and is reportedly day-to-day.

The Nationals also got solid pitching from the Washington bullpen, which worked out of two potential Mets rallies. The Mets loaded the bases in bottom of the seventh and the bottom of the eighth innings, but Craig Stammen dampened the Mets in the 7th while Tyler Clippard tamed the Mets in the 8th.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Okay. Okay. Okay. We were wrong. Back before the All Star break would took issue with the decision to put Pirates outfielder and sometime third sacker Josh Harrison on the All Star team, pointing out that his numbers didn’t reflect the honor, and plumping for our own nominee, Adam LaRoche . . .

We’ll stick by the spirit of our claim, particularly given LaRoche’s amazing September, while acknowledging that Harrison has become Pittsburgh’s MVP — and that in spite of (and while acknowledging) yet another solid season from last year’s MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Harrison led the N.L. in total bases in August with 71, extra base hits with 19 and a slugging percentage of .602 . . .

Harrison could also win the N.L. batting title. Harrison is hitting .314, while N.L. leader Justin Morneau is hitting .317. And Harrison has been tearing up opposing pitching in September: he’s 11-32 since September 1 with four doubles. And at third base, Harrison has been a whiz . . .

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Nats 6-4 Victory Extends N.L. East Lead

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

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The Nationals sent nine hitters to the plate in the first inning against Atlanta starter Ervin Santana last night at Nationals Park and scored four runs, an avalanche of offense that stunned the Braves and led Washington to its second win in a row against their division rivals. The final 6-4 score extended the Nationals lead in the N.L. East to nine games.

“They came out swinging the bats and were really, really aggressive with the first couple pitches of every at-bat,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Usually, when they do that against [Santana], they get quick outs. But they found the outfield grass and put a big number up — four runs. We weren’t able to recover after that, but we battled.”

It would now take a near miracle for the Braves to overtake the Nats for the division crown, though four games remain between the two teams. The beneficiary of last night’s victory, played before an excited crowd of nearly 30,000 partisans, was Jordan Zimmermann, who threw six complete innings in picking up his eleventh win on the season.

The Nationals first inning onslaught included a double from Denard Span, a Jayson Werth walk and singles from Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos — all of which led to three early D.C. runs. An Asdrubal Cabrera sacrifice fly scored the fourth run of the inning.

The Washington victory marked another great game for hot-hitting first sacker Adam LaRoche, who was 2-3 with two RBIs on the night. “It feels like we’re just that much closer,” LaRoche told the press after the victory. “Not to take anything for granted until this thing is sewn up, but these are big. This time of year, playing the team chasing you, to be able to win a couple.”

While the game dimmed the end-of-season prospects for the Braves, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman said his team wasn’t about to give up. “We still have a chance,” Freeman said. “Once we’re fully eliminated from the division race, then we’ll worry about the wild card.”

Atlanta attempted to climb back into the game by putting two runs on the board in the fourth and sixth innings, which included a home run off the bat of Justin Upton. But other than the Upton home run, righty Jordan Zimmermann was steady and efficient in setting down Atlanta hitters.

“I felt OK. I didn’t have my best stuff. The fastball was like a tick off. I ran into some deep counts,” Zimmermann said of his six inning outing. “A couple of at-bats by Bonifacio cost me 15 to 20 pitches. That’s why I wasn’t able to go longer. Overall, I felt OK. It was just a little bit of a battle tonight.”

As has now become common practice, Nats manager Matt Williams successfully mixed and matched his relievers against Atlanta’s long-ball hitting line-up. Aaron Barrett, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen took the Nationals through the end of the eighth inning, while Drew Storen notched his third save in a row and his fourth on the season.

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Nats Edge Atlanta In Dramatic 2-1 Win

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

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The Nationals are playing October playoff baseball in September at Nationals Park, with dramatic pitching performances and clutch come-from-behind victories that are vaulting Washington to the top of the National League East. Last night, in a dramatic playoff atmosphere, the Nationals edged the Altanta Braves behind the pitching of Doug Fister, 2-1.

The victory put the Nationals eight games ahead of second place Atlanta and reduced the team’s magic number to win the East at 12 games. Fister, who threw seven inning of two hit baseball to notch his 13th win of the season, was the key to the win. Fister induced eleven ground ball outs and struck out three in the victory. Atlanta’s Mike Minor took the loss.

“We’ve struggled all year against the Braves,” Drew Storen, who pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning to register his second straight save, said of the win. “It’s nothing new to anybody, but for us to go out and play our game — and that’s a tight game that can swing either way — for us to lock that down is really good.”

The Nationals scored early against Minor, with Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond singling in the first inning. Desmond’s single scored Rendon for the Nationals first run. The Nats scored again in the bottom of the 7th when Jeff Kobernus, pinching running for Wilson Ramos, scored from third on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Rendon.

Atlanta’s Mike Minor matched Fister pitch-for-pitch, until being pulled by Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez after six complete innings. The scrappy Minor kept the Braves in the game just enough that, in the seventh inning, the Braves threatened to grab the lead after Fister walked Freddie Freeman and Tommy La Stella. But Fister was able to pitch out of the jam, inducing a ground ball out from shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

“Tonight was a baseball game, a well-played baseball game on both sides and well pitched,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “No errors or mistakes there for either team. Their pitcher was able to hold us to one less run, and them getting the extra run with a groundout. It didn’t take a lot. That’s the definition of a good game.”

A crowd of 25,000-plus watched the Nats victory, but was more raucous than usual — a sign that Nats fans know that their team doesn’t always play its best against their division rivals. Which gave added drama to the victory and made the contest feel like a do-or-die October playoff game.

“It would be nice to win the division knowing that we can beat the Braves more than winning the division knowing that we can’t beat the Braves,” Washington reliever Craig Stammen said. “This proves we can play good baseball against a good team and prepare us for a playoff-type atmosphere if we get to that point.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The last two weeks have been a nightmare for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Crew has lost 12 of their last thirteen games and plummeted out of first place in the National League Central. They now trail the St. Louis stinking Cardinals by six games and are struggling to stay in the Wild Card race . . .

Last night in Miami, and against a team that is three games under .500, Milwaukee lost a 6-4 decision to the Marlins, while gamely attempting a last gasp two run effort to rally in the eighth inning. It was not to be. “We can’t make the pitch when we need to,” first sacker Mark Reynolds said after the loss. “We can’t get the big hit when we need it. It’s just a culmination of frustration . . .”

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